Dan Wolfson's 2009 Letter Home

Dear Mom,

Hi. It’s been a long time since I’ve written you a letter.  Actually, I think I know exactly how long it’s been- the last letter I sent you was for a Color War letter check on Josh Hahn’s great, glorious, and victorious gray team of 2002. Back then, I was a CIT at Manitou, going to war against some of my best friends on Dan Satter’s Maroon team. It’s interesting how history has a way of coming full circle, as I now write you once again for an organization that is being run by Josh Hahn and others, including Satter. And this time, I think we have the potential to all be victorious. But unfortunately, unlike the last time I wrote you, now there is no place I can address this letter.  And as I sit in front of Bernice’s laptop in the Manitou office, typing through tear streaked eyes, I know that this is going to be the most challenging letter I’ve ever written, and probably even more challenging to read aloud.

Right now, I am four days into the Manitou Experience.  But time can’t really be measured in days at Manitou, as time seems to stand still here.  Yet before we know it, we will all be back where we were just one week ago, although in our hearts, I know we will have all come a long way in a very short time.

And speaking of coming a long way, Mom, I think you would be amazed to see how far I have come, personally, since the last time I wrote you.  During the past seven years, I have gone through a lot of changes in my life.  First of all, I can now grow a beard.  Facial hair is pretty cool, right Quinn?  And Bernice, your goatee looks excellent.  But the changes I’ve gone through have been much more than physical.  Back then, I think I had a hard time coping with the fact that you had cancer.  It was something I just didn’t want to accept, because I couldn’t imagine a life without you.  You were always the rock of our family, even through the very end, and never wanted people to treat you differently just because you were sick. And you didn’t act sick.  You still made lunches and dinner for me and Rach every day, helped us with our homework, and knew every time I was getting myself into trouble… which was pretty often.  But over the years, I have had to take a lot more responsibility for these things myself.  And although I would love to go back and not have been forced to grow up, I know that you would be proud of the man that I am becoming.  

But this week isn’t all about me.  I look around, and just as you would be proud of me, I can’t begin to explain how proud I am of the thirty young men that sit before me.  I’m not going to lie to these guys- it absolutely sucks to lose someone close to you.  It involves a roller coaster of emotions that I can’t believe I was able to get through at the age of 18.  And these guys are all much younger than that, but I can see that they refuse to give in.  

But gentlemen, it’s okay to hurt sometimes.  There is a huge piece of all of our lives that has gone missing, and it is tough to know how to face that hole.  All of us are different, and all of us respond to life in different ways, but all of us are still here.  And all of us are strong.  And all of us still have a piece of our family members with us that can never be taken away.  Whether it is a love for adventure, like Keith, or in my sisters case, a computer like memory that can always keep me in check.  Guys, I know how hard it can be sometimes.  How can you focus on something like a math test, when all of a sudden that sadness pops into your heart?  I don’t have all the answers, so I’m going to pass on a little advice that I received from Dan Satter just last night.  Try to pick your moments.   When you feel that pain coming on, it’s okay, you have the right to feel sad, and you can’t be something you aren’t, but if you are true to yourself, and able to recognize and respond to what is going on both inside of you and around you, then you will see that you are truly winners, regardless of scores on a college league board or grades on a report card. And know that it gets a little easier every day.  Four years ago, I couldn’t hold back tears when talking about my mom.  But now, I feel lucky that I can reflect on my loss, and understand that although it doesn’t seem fair, loss is a part of life.  We have all been forced to grow up a little faster than a lot of our peers, but you should all take pride in the way that you are meeting that challenge.  And as I think this week has shown you, we still have an unbelievable potential to find joy in life.  So I want to thank all of you, for allowing me to share this experience with you.  I want to thank the organizers of this week, Sara, Hahn, Satter, and Waldo.  I want to thank the owners of Manitou, for opening up a place that has brought me an infinite amount of good times over the years, and gave me a chance to grow in so many ways, so now you can all have the chance to grow here as well.  I want to thank the All Star staff we have, for taking time away from their lives to be a part of this. I want to thank Bob and Amy, for just having them around has helped me reconnect with my inner child, but also helped me recognize that we build much more than campers here- we build people.  

I want to especially thank Rachel, who will always be the most important person in the world to me, for being here with me.  Although she didn’t really know anyone here before this week, Rachel was willing to come up to camp for what was sure to be a gauntlet of emotions, and help to capture what we like to call Manitou Magic.  And that magic isn’t just the winning and losing of games, it isn’t our fight song, or our outstanding facilities, it isn’t the stars or the fields, it’s all of that plus more.  It’s something that is built by people who truly care about one another, and truly care about this place, because they understand how special our times here are.   And to be honest, the emotional gauntlet that I expected to be getting myself into has really been filled with many more smiles than tears, so I thank all of you for being so much fun to be around.  And mom, I want to thank you.  I want to thank you for always expecting more from me, always believing in me, and always being there for me, even now.  And while I don’t know if I’ll ever really decide what I believe in when it comes to the greater questions like God and heaven, I know that when I truly need you, I can always talk to you, and in some weird way find comfort.  I hope that everyone here can find their own ways to find that warmth and that strength.  And I truly believe that they can.

Mom, I will always love you, I will always miss you, and I will always strive to make you proud.

Love,

Your baby boy, your hyperactive child, your rebellious teenager, your college graduate, your son forever,
Dan

Zach's Letter Home

Dear Dad,

I miss you daddy.  I wake up everyday when all of a sudden the harsh reality sets in.  My best friend, my hero, my dad is dead.  It has been just under 4 months since my dad has died but yet these emotions of anger, sadness, confusion, frustration are all very palpable day in and day out.  I miss talking, laughing, playing, and learning from my dad.  I am scared to experience life without my dad.  He was the one I turned too for support, guidance and advice.  I find myself asking how will put the next foot forward?  How will I make the right choice without his guidance?  How will I know the answers to my questions without him there?

I, like many of you thought “I am okay”  “I will get through this” “ I don’t need anyone’s help”  But then I came to the Kennybrook Experience.  I too was scared and apprehensive about coming.   But then I met the amazing staff.  I participated in circle time with a bunch of my peers who I didn’t know.  I was able to open up to a bunch of people who I have only known for a few hours.  I was telling them things I wouldn’t tell some of my closest friends.  I am not entirely sure what drove me to do this but I think it had something to do with the Kennybrook magic.  That magic made me feel at ease and made me feel comfortable.  I was not even here for 8 hours but I knew this place was special. 

The moment the kids stepped off the bus headed to the basketball court I knew I was in the right place.  The feeling I felt so many other times at my previous camp.  Excitement, nervousness, but mostly eagerness to get the week going. 

The energy, the enthusiasm, and the excitement of camp brought me right back to my element.  I was having fun and living like a kid.  The outside world didn’t matter.  I forgot about work, I forgot about my problems, but most of all I forgot about the loss I was feeling.  Then circle time ensued, a time where 4 counselors, 8 campers, and 1 clinician had a safe space.  A space where we can let all our emotions out and feel them together as one cabin.  To hear every single one of my campers share a piece of their story was not only touching but it was also reassuring.  I was reassured that there are others like me going through the same thing I am going thru.  I am not the only one dealing with these emotions and feelings that I am currently feeling.  Shortly after circle time concluded the kids were back laughing, playing and having fun and putting our discussions we just had on the back burner and forgetting the stresses of the outside world.   To me that balance is like no other.  No other place are you able to empathize with your brothers and then five minutes later laugh over something silly.  Personally I need that balance, with such sadness I need happiness.  I have truly found that perfect balance at KenEx.

I look out at you 40 kids and am absolutely amazed.  I was lucky enough to have my father for 24 years of my life.  He has given me the tools to succeed in life.  He taught me how to be a man, how to respect people, and how to be kind.  While I was fortunate enough to have my dad to teach me and to mold me into the man I am, many of you don’t have that figure in you’re life to teach you.  Yet so many of you have those tools, you are so kind, respectful, and amazing,  I commend each and everyone of you.  I wanted to come to camp and teach kids how to better themselves but I think the opposite has unfolded.  You guys taught me about myself.  You have taught me how to open up, how to be a better person, and how to open back my heart to love again.  While no one can take the place of my dad I have found ways to use that part of my heart again and that void is filled by all of you. =

I was having a conversation this week about the power of helping others.  While I am going through my own grief, I have been able to manage that and help my campers with their grief.  For me that has been the best medicine and the best coping strategy .  Taking the pain away from others and helping bring just one smile to a camper’s face is helps me cope and is helping me heal.  I can’t even begin to count how many times I have heard or I have said “ That’s why we come to camp”  It are those smiles, those laughs, those tears that make this all worth it. 

Often times I don’t like talking about my father’s death.  It is uncomfortable people don’t get it.  I have a found a safe place here where people do get it.  A place where I can talk about things, a place where I can cry and have 50 other people picking me up and comforting me.  I think the KenEx magic is real.  As soon as you enter this place, nothing else matters.  Religion, race, background all go out the window and we stand here connected.  We are all connected by a loss, a loss none of us wish we had.  However, this loss has brought us here, this loss has connected every single one of us.  And for that I am thankful for. 

I couldn’t have asked for a better week with better kids.  I am just so amazed by how awesome all of you are.  I have learned so much about all of you.  Your willingness to talk and share is a gift I encourage all of you to keep.  In doing so I have learbed more about myself I could have ever imagined.  My family’s mantra is you have two options

1)    Curl up in a ball and let the situation win

2)    Get up everyday live life to the fullest and live the way dad would have lived

You guys have all picked option number 2.  For that I am proud.  If each of you can live life to the fullest (wish you have all have this week) then so can I.  Thank you for giving me the strength I have been yearning for since my dad has died.  With darkness comes light.  Thank you for everyone who has made this camp possible. 

Zach

Alex's Letter to His Dad

“I like to release my emotions sometimes when I feel down about my dad. When I write to him, it’s like I can still connect with him; like he’s still there." 

Dear Dad,

It’s been almost 16 years since you passed away. I know you’re in a better place, and I know you’re watching, but I still miss you. I miss you a lot.

It’s hard for me to think about the past and what happened that day, but it’s also hard for me to think about the future: the future you’ll never see. You’ll never see my first varsity basketball game, my graduation, or even my wedding. I didn’t just lose you when you passed away, I lost my best friend: someone I was going to share my life’s experiences with.

I lost, but in a weird way, I gained. Brothers, friends, and a great lifetime experience all in the form of the Manitou Experience.

Manitou Experience is an all boys camp I’ve attended for four years that is for young boys that lost a close relative: like me losing you. It’s undoubtedly the best five days of my life because I can go there, and worry about nothing else. I’ve grown and matured with my brothers – my brothers I love. From the people, to the counselors, to the atmosphere, it’s magical.

In the end, I love you dad, but I gained much more. Manitou is the greatest place in the world, and I look forward to it every year. I’m in good hands, as I hope you are too. I hope heaven’s treating you well.

Love,

Alex